Watching Carter

Some people only get four years, others four days. Reese and Carter only get four minutes.

Wednesday, 8:30 am

Her son just left for school with his friends. Good.

Standing behind the early Autumnal shrubbery of W. 55th St., five steps from Detective Carter's doorway, John Reese watched the cocoa colored woman stride down her brownstone's ridged four steps to the irregular sidewalk. Bundled in an oversized tan coat, pleated brown pants suit, and aged flat loafers, her short dark hair fell into a layered bob framing her street wisened face. She casually scanned the street, catching sight of a large SUV parked four spaces down, two men facing each other while chatting beside a mahogany car, and a seemingly befuddled man crouched over an open back pack across the street. Reese watched, amused, as frustrated irritation flashed on Carter's rarely placid face.

She paused. He watched her contemplate taking her SUV providing an easier tail or public transportation just to fuck with them. He already knew her decision. . Fuck with them. Re-adjusting her calf-length wool coat while aligning her bag across her chest, she turned in the direction of the subway.

John waited, watching the naïve CIA tail in their creased, shiny suits scramble out of their oversized SUV onto the sidewalk. He waited ten seconds more. The two men, in worn in yet serviceable suits, split in half. One walked after Carter and the other slid into the mahogany compact driving in the opposite direction, assumedly to the FBI's Manhattan office. He waited five seconds more. The final follower shrugged, nonchalantly tossing the previously open back pack across his shoulder, while crossing the street back towards Carter's apartment and past Reese's hiding space.

Pulling out a phone, the broad-chested man with the gently curved paunch, possibly cop, possibly mob, possibly HR, punched an auto-dial number while furtively looking around the area. "Yea. She's gone. You want me to leave the surprise? Yea. Got it. No problem. " Flipping the phone closed, he walked to Carter's doorstep and sheltered the door with his frame while jamming a homemade bump key into the lock. Reese heard the lock slowly click, offering small bits of tiny resistance.

His face tightened. Carter only had one safe space. He meant to keep it that way. Scanning the street for nearby witnesses, finding none, he went to work. As Carter warned him about his gun-capping habit, he pulled a retractable baton from his coat pocket, aiming at the man's back knee. The man fell to the ground, groaning. Reese followed with a few rabbit punches to the face, further disorienting him. Although the man fell down, he wasn't out. Kicking at Reese's feet, he successfully toppled the ex-spy. Reese head-butted him and checked his watch, two minutes had passed. If he wanted to catch Carter, he'd have to dispose of the body quickly. Wrapping his hands around the man's throat, he pressed until unconsciousness appeared. Spying the CIA vehicle, he he heaved the corpulent form around his body and across the empty street

Tapping his ear, he walked towards the SUV's rear. "Mr. Finch, we have a clean-up on Carter's street. Could your people tow a large black SUV? The neighbors are frightened." Breaking the back window, he pushed the unconscious man into the back storage compartment through the glass fragments. "Also, the back window is broken." Removing his coat, he tossed it over the inert body, further obscuring him from sight.

"The tow truck is en route, Mr. Reese. Five minutes. Anything else?"

"Which direction is she?"

"South. Five blocks."

He sprinted forward - one block ... two blocks ... three blocks. Although he didn't see her, he immediately spotted her FBI detail. The young man appeared somewhat confused that a local PD managed to shake him. Turning in a frantic circle, he desperately attempted to glimpse Carter's indistinct hair and camel hair coat; but caught only early morning travelers crowding the walkways. John noted the agent stood close to the sidewalk's edge beside temporarily stopped traffic.

Although Donnelly meant no harm, he dared to watch Carter. His Carter. He couldn't excuse that. Pulling his collar beside his ears, he waited until the stopped light shifted to green. Walking quickly, he brushed past the kid, pushing his inertia into himto until he stumbled into oncoming cars. Ignoring the squeal of black tires on cracked asphalt, the screams of "ohmygod," and the young man's anguished cry , he smiled and walked past. Two down, two to go.

He tapped his ear to verify. "Finch?"

"She's still there, Mr. Reese."

"Thank you."

He checked the street sign. There were three coffee shops in the area . The one with the most construction obstacles between here and the subway, sat two blocks away Southeast.

He sprinted. Taking a shortcut through a public building that emptied on the other side, he found himself on a narrow street slightly closed off due to the surrounding barricades .

He spied Carter twenty yards in front of him, sipping coffee from a 16 ounce disposable. Reese felt relieved. She was alright. Carter was alright. His Carter was alright. He paused drinking her in and enjoying the sight of her. Gesturing at the 18-year-old waitress's two drink tray, Carter laughed at the younger woman's quizzical expression . She continued miming until comprehension dawned on the young woman's face.

Following Carter's line of sight, he spotted the CIA detail under an awning five yards away, sheltered by inert equipment. He started towards them, identifying possible hiding spots for their unconscious bodies in the nearby construction, when the waitress crossed the street to their location. Reese withdrew to the shadows while the agents, surprised, remained in place and accepted the drinks.

Reese smiled. She was getting better at this. With the distraction of the post-adolescent waitress, Carter had melted away. Reese waited sixty seconds, watching the dismayed agents realize their mistake, pacing the street before eventually backtracking to the street. When they disappeared, Reese retraced his steps.

The subway stop now stood two blocks away. The next train left in two minutes. Rushing past the startled waitress and back through the semi-abandoned building, he re-emerged onto the main walkway, further swelling with people, compared to its seeming earlier absence.

He pushed past the rotund man with the ill-fitting t-shirt, through the bubble-gum chewing teenagers, and past the cane-less Senior Citizen.

As he ran the final block, he wondered why he chased this woman. This woman, who routinely frustrated and worried him. Technically, she no longer needed his assistance, especially considering the triple watch of the FBI, CIA and HR/normal police served as checks and balances against each other. Technically, as a trained army intelligence investigator and cop, she could protect herself. Technically, his presence in her life made it worse. Technically, he should walk away and leave her alone.

So, why did he follow her? Why did he watch her? Why did he protect her so fiercely and so devotedly (even when she told him not to) … when he didn't protect Jessica? What draws him to this woman so different from the woman he loved? Why did he move heaven and earth for her? Maybe it's guilt. Maybe it's regret. He didn't know. But, something … something pulled him towards Carter and he couldn't let go, he couldn't let her out of his life. Unlike Jessica, he didn't want to.

Thirty more seconds passed. He had arrived.

Sprinting past the doorway, he paused, handing twenty dollars to the homeless woman inside before vaulting the turnstile, and rushing down the brown steps until he glimpsed Carter's beige coat stride into the final car. Their car.

Leaping the final steps, he launched his tall frame between the closing doors, simultaneously dislodging the car's doorway-located camera.

Carter sat in the car's middle seats with her eyes closed and head casually thrown against the curved back. Her shoulders relaxed into the hard primary colored plastic and the morning's frown eased into a lazy, contented smile. He seated himself two seats away from Carter, watching her, as he always did, and enjoying the sight of her, as he always did. Contrasted with the morning's tightly frustrated smile, she appeared relaxed, at peace and happy. THIS is why he protected her. THIS is why he followed her … to catch small moments like these, rare in the hectic pace of criminals and machines.

As the train neared police headquarters, the crowd gradually thinned with Goths, grandmothers and grandchildren exiting until only he and Carter remained. Odd, Reese thought, that more people traveled away from the precinct, rather than to it.

After the door closed on the final passenger, Reese slid one seat closer to Carter, mentally checking the time. Five minutes left.

Placing his hand in the seat between them, he double-tapped his earpiece, auto-dialing what proved first in his heart albeit second in his call log. He watched as Carter pulled her phone from her left pocket, eyes still closed, while allowing her right arm to casually land in the seat between herself and Reese.

"Detective Carter."

"You had a full house this morning, Detective."

She smiled, keeping her eyes closed, relaxing further into the seat. "Nothing you couldn't handle."

He placed his cold, moist hand atop her warm, dry one. "Or you. I told you you're getting good at this."

She laughed, disengaging her hand, but keeping it close. Her pinky slowly brushed against his. "Then why do you keep following me?"

He paused, feeling the truth spill hesitantly from his lips. "I don't know."

She nodded, exhaling. She didn't know either. Even with the death of her husband, the danger to her son and the threat to her badge, she couldn't live without him in her life - watching her, saving her and being with her. She wished she knew why. She didn't. And she couldn't let go.

Exhaling, she leaned into Reese's upright form, as her loosely curled hair brushed against his hard shoulder. Inhaling, he leaned against her, taking the pressure of her body against his, savoring the press of her form against his and feeling the brush of skin against cloth. Four minutes left.

Four minutes, the only time he had alone with Carter … truly alone … and he savored each second. Counting down in his mind, he felt her skin scrape against the cotton shirt beneath her blazer and inhaled the fragrance-less aroma of her body. He needed her. He wanted her. But, he couldn't have her. Not yet.

Carter stirred beside him, her body lightly brushing against his before disengaging. He tensed. Too short. It was always too short. Thirty seconds left. Thirty seconds. She stood.

He watched her.

He resisted crushing her form to his chest. He resisted enjoying the warm embrace of her skin or the soft touch of her lips. He resisted flinching, watching her hand adjust her hair and overcoat while reaching for her cell to disconnect their phone contact. He resisted calling out to her, suggesting he knew a restaurant in southern Mexico they could escape to. He resisted, like he always did.

Instead, when the thirty seconds ended, he listened to her brown shoes slap against the linoleum pavement and her beige coat swish against the rubber insulation of the opening doors, the re-dialing of her phone, and the cold bark of her voice talking to her partner.

He exhaled.

Some people had four years. Some people had four days.

He and Carter only had four minutes.